The Halloween spirit is alive and well in Colorado—at least based on the number of pumpkins, bedsheet ghosts, and larger-than-life tarantulas currently festooning local neighborhoods.
But October 31 will be different this year, thanks to reasons starting with “pan” and ending in “demic.” If the surges in COVID-19 cases following July 4 and Labor Day are any indication, holidays and coronavirus are a dangerous mix. And with statewide infection numbers now climbing again at an alarming rate, it’s clear we’re still deep in our battle against the virus.
So what does that mean for Halloween-loving Coloradans and their kids? Is it possible to enjoy favorite traditions—like trick-or-treating, costume parades, and haunted houses—without jeopardizing your family’s health? We asked Cory Hussain, an infectious disease physician at Denver Health, for guidance.
According to Hussain, it is feasible to safely partake in festivities this year—so long as you follow public health guidelines, like social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding big groups, gathering outside, and staying home if you’re sick. Small get-togethers with your quarantine pod are probably OK; large parties definitely are not (and if you’re in Denver, they’re currently not allowed). Here’s what that means for specific Halloween activities.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating as a high-risk activity, but Hussain says you can reduce the danger by staying in your own neighborhood, going with just a few other people (preferably only your own kids), standing six feet back when the door is opened, and wearing masks. You can make it even safer yet by only visiting houses in your quarantine pod.
On the topic of masks, Hussain recommends decorating surgical or cloth face coverings so that they compliment your Halloween outfit. Wearing a costume mask won’t cut it—unless, per the CDC, that mask is made with two or more layers of breathable fabric, covers your mouth and nose, and doesn’t leave gaps around your face. Another no-no: Donning a costume mask on top of a cloth mask, as that scenario could make it difficult to breathe, warns the CDC. It’s also a good idea to bring hand sanitizer in case you or your children touch surfaces like railings, doorknobs, and doorbells along the way.
Once your kids haul their candy home, you probably don’t need to worry about disinfecting it, says Hussain. As long as no one coughed or sneezed on the candy, the chances of it being a risk for COVID-19 transmission are pretty low. Still, if you’re worried, simply rub the wrappers with an alcohol wipe.
Hussain also has pointers for folks expecting trick-or-treaters at home. First, wash your hands and disinfect your candy bowl right before filling it with treats. If kids are going to grab candy directly from the bowl, put a bottle of hand sanitizer out on the porch and encourage them to use it before they dig in.
Then, wear a mask when you greet visitors, and, if you can, figure out a way to hand out treats while remaining socially distant—especially if you’re expecting visits from kids you don’t know. Hussain, for instance, is planning to prepackage candy into bags and deliver them to trick-or-treaters using a bedazzled metal pole that extends up to 20 feet. (Yes, really.) You could also set out individually wrapped treats at the end of your driveway or yard; or, use a slide, tube, or pipe to deliver candy from a distance, suggests the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
But if welcoming trick-or-treaters in any capacity seems too risky to you, put a sign on your porch or in your yard letting folks know you won’t be participating this year. And if you are handing out treats, but see something worrisome out your window—like a large group of people not wearing masks—keep your door shut. It’s not curmudgeonly, we promise.
Trunk or Treating
Trunk or treating (getting candy from trunks of cars in a parking lot) can be a relatively safe option if you limit this activity to a small number of families that you already interact with on a regular basis, says Hussain. Just make sure masks are worn and cars are parked at least seven to 10 feet apart so that social distancing can be observed.
Scary Movie Nights
Hosting an outdoor, socially distanced scary movie night can be another safe way to celebrate Halloween. Hussain is planning to screen a horror film in his yard where guests will sit six feet apart and be encouraged to wear masks.
If you’re showing a flick that will likely induce screaming (it is Halloween after all), the CDC advises more than six feet of spacing between people. Screaming, Hussain explains, generally creates more aerosols and ejects these aerosols greater distances, increasing the risk of viral transmission (unless a mask is worn).
Organizing a small, distanced costume parade along a one-way route is a great idea, says Hussain. Just encourage mask wearing, limit participation to folks you know, and keep at least 10 feet between groups. If kids are spaced out a greater distance—say 20 or 30 feet—then it’s OK to not wear masks, Hussain adds. For an even safer option, host a drive-by parade in which costumed children wave from car windows.
Outdoor Haunted Houses
Visiting an al fresco haunted house is pretty low risk, says Hussain. That’s if you wear a face covering, go with a small group, are socially distanced from other groups, and if all the actors wear masks, too.
Activities to Avoid
Hussain’s biggest coronavirus-related concern this Halloween? Large house parties. “You’ve already seen that happening on college campuses,” he says, referencing the sites of hundreds of COVID-19 hotspots in recent months. Indoor haunted houses—especially if they feature lots of screaming and little mask wearing— are also quite risky. And yet another dicey choice: apple bobbing. “Please no,” Hussain says. “Do not touch mucous membranes together.”
The Bottom Line
Halloween won’t feel entirely normal this year, but there still are lots of ways to safely celebrate the occasion. Stick to outdoor activities and follow basic public health guidelines, like social distancing, mask wearing, staying home when sick—you know the drill.
“Halloween to me doesn’t seem like a very high-risk holiday,” Hussain says. “There are much bigger risk holidays coming up after that—Thanksgiving and Christmas—where we tend to gather around food and people inside for prolonged periods of time.”
Such holidays, he adds, will be the highest risk. “I think we’ll need separate guidelines for those.”